How to Plan and Install a Home Lawn Sprinkler System

Sprinkler System

I bet you do a mean Sprinkler dance move when nobody’s watching. But to really get down with your bad self, why not plan and install a home lawn sprinkler system? You can do it in a few weekends, depending on your yard’s size and the system. Get the right parts, prepare well, and your sprinkler system will be up and poppin’ like your best Running Man dance move.

DIY or Professional Installation?

Nancy Price Foreman, Owner and Director of Operations with Drilling and Irrigation Services in Melbourne, Fla., notes that when you hire a professional to do the job, the system is covered by a warranty. Deciding whether to do it yourself or have a professional install your lawn sprinkler system is a process of weighing a lot of important factors.

A professional installation is carefree and it might be best because of strict state and local regulations. But DIY installation is something to take pride in, and both installation and upkeep are definitely doable for a homeowner.

Here are some pros and cons of professional lawn sprinkler installation:


  • The system is covered by a warranty
  • They’ll come out and fix it at no cost to you


  • Up-front costs: Professionally installed sprinkler systems cost from $2,539 to $4,773, depending on the size of the yard, materials, and the company you use.

Here are some pros and cons of DIY lawn sprinkler installation:


  • You’ll save money
  • Purchase parts for $1,500 or less on average
  • No labor charges


  • Labor intensive
  • You find and fix malfunctions
  • You pay for repairs
  • You may need to rent equipment

Plan Your Sprinkler System

Sprinkler system
Photo Credit: Aqua Mechanical / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Before you start digging holes and laying pipes to install your sprinkler system, you’ll need to do some preplanning.

Don’t forget to plan for these important steps:

  • Research your local ordinances on lawn water usage; they vary from location to location.
  • Check with your local county offices to see if you need a permit to install a sprinkler system. You should also find out if you can install the sprinkler system yourself or if you need to hire a professional, per state and local regulations. 
  • Contact your local utility companies to mark your underground lines a few days before starting. You don’t want to hit utility lines and lose power, telephone service, cable, and internet.
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Draw Your Irrigation Plan

The next step is to plan your lawn sprinkler system using a sketch of the area where you will install the system. Designate zones according to the water requirements for specific vegetation growing there. 

When configuring zones for your sprinkler system installation, consider that turf has different water requirements from trees and shrubs. You can use standard sprinkler heads for turfgrass, but it’s better to use lower spray heads for zones containing trees and shrubbery. Drip irrigation works better in areas such as a vegetable garden.

Quick tips for drawing your sprinkler system plan:

  1. Stay as close to scale as possible.
    • Draw your lawn’s layout, noting the location of trees, flower beds, or other vegetation.
    • Note turfgrass areas for different watering patterns.
    • Mark hardscapes, such as retaining walls, walkways, or a driveway.
  2. Mark on your plan where you are placing the PVC pipe and control box.
  3. Take into consideration slopes and note proposed placements of your sprinkler heads.
    • For proper irrigation, you will want the spray pattern of each head to overlap its neighbor by 50 percent.
    • The spray should overlap all areas of the yard for proper irrigation.

Determine Water Pressure and Flow Rate

Before you rush out to purchase all your DIY irrigation supplies, you need to determine several important aspects about the flow of water through your system. Once you figure these out, you can purchase the correct parts.

Water Pressure: You want to determine the working measurement of your water pressure, which is the pressure while the water is turned on. To do that, attach a pressure gauge to an outside faucet and turn on the water. Be sure all your other water valves are off inside and outside your home. The gauge shows you your water pressure per square inch (psi).

Water pressure gauge
Photo Credit: Thomas Quine / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Water Meter Size/Well Size: If you receive your water from a municipal water system, you should be able to find the size of the water meter on the box. If you cannot locate it on the outdoor box, call your water company for the information. If your water is from a well, the size of your well pump is noted on the outside of the pump or in its owner’s manual.

Size of Service Line: To purchase the correct size pipe that matches your existing water service line, be sure to measure it before you purchase the PVC pipe for your lawn sprinkler system.

Flow Rate: Determining your flow rate is measuring how many gallons of water per minute (GPM). The steps for determining your flow rate are basic:

  1. Take a five-gallon container to your outside spigot.
  2. Turn the water fully on and use your phone to record the time it takes to fill the container.
  3. Divide the container’s size by how many seconds it took to fill.
  4. Multiply that result by 60 and you end up with the flow rate (gallons per minute).
  5. To determine the gallons per hour (GPH), multiply the flow rate by 60.

Here’s a simple example: 

5 (gallon container) / 30 (seconds to fill) = 0.166 (gallons per second)

0.166 X 60 (seconds in a minute) = 10 gallons per minute

10 (flow rate, or gallons per minute) X 60 (minutes per hour) = 600 (gallons per hour)

Pro Tip:  Nancy Forman recommends that you know the water flow rate (in gallons) before you install a lawn sprinkler system. You also need to find out how much water each sprinkler head uses to install the correct amount of sprinkler heads. Installing too many heads in a zone with an inadequate flow rate may result in the area not being watered properly.

Choose a Sprinkler System Kit or Build Your Own System

Photo Credit: Thangaraj Kumaravel / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Sprinkler System Kit

Irrigation companies such as Rainbird offer easy-to-install sprinkler system kits. They’re great for small- or medium-sized lawns of 1,000 to 3,000 square feet. The kit comes with all the basic instructions and parts to install the sprinkler system on a weekend. For large areas, these kits might not be the best choice. You may require several kits to water the entire area.

Kits do have some limitations. You can’t expand on the system without affecting the quality of the service and the amount of water sprayed. Another consideration when purchasing a kit is that the yard’s elevation can’t be more than six feet from the sprinkler head to the hose bib.

One advantage is you don’t have to worry about finding your main water line and can quickly hook up to an outdoor faucet. Also, kits come with an easily programmed controller, and most have a rain delay feature that suspends irrigation for several days without losing your program.

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Build Your Own System

Listed below are the essential parts you’ll require for installing your lawn sprinkler system:

  • PVC Pipe: It’s common for underground sprinkler systems to be made out of PVC pipe. It’s probably a good idea to have a little extra on hand if you make a bad cut.
  • PVC Fittings: You’ll need elbows and tees to allow for direction changes needed to lay the PVC piping.
  • Controllers and Timers: An automatic sprinkler system requires a controller and timer you set so the unit knows when and for how long to water. You can purchase “smart” or manual controllers. Smart controllers save water by automatically adjusting to the present weather conditions. Manual controllers water according to your program.
  • Sprinkler Heads: Sprinkler heads are the working parts that spray water onto the landscape. The style of sprinkler heads you need depends on the direction of the spray, the amount of space you want to water, and the style of the spray pattern.
  • Tubing or Risers: Tubing, or risers, are required for connecting sprinkler heads or drip lines to the PVC pipe to make the system work.
  • Valves: Valves control the flow of water through the system. They open and close to allow water to enter the sprinkler system.
  • Valve Box: Provides easy access and protection for the valves.
  • Wiring: You need wiring to connect to the control center. The control center opens and closes the valves as needed.
  • Drains: Drains keep water out of the pipes when they are no longer pressurized. Manual and automatic drains are installed at the end of sprinkler lines and low points.
  • Backflow Preventer: Many municipalities require the installation of a backflow preventer, which keeps the water in the system from going back into the home’s water supply.

This essential parts list doesn’t include basic tools like shovels, PVC glue, a pipe cutter, landscape flags and stakes, or string. You may also want to rent a power trencher or pipe-puller for around $200 at your local machine rental store.

Select Sprinkler Heads

Photo Credit: Daniel R. Blume / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

Now that you have mapped out your area for your home sprinkler system, you will need to select the best sprinkler head types for designated zones based on the plants growing there.

Variations of turf, trees, and vegetation call for different head styles. For example, you don’t want a sprinkler head that will directly spray against a tree’s bark. The constant saturation could cause problems with the tree and possibly lead to its death.

Here’s a quick guide for the sprinkler head types you’ll need:

  • Fixed Spray: Fixed spray sprinkler heads work best on smaller lawns, or in beds with ground covers or shrubbery. They produce a tight, constant fan of water spanning 5-15 feet.
  • Bubbler/Flood: Bubbler or flood heads work well around trees, in planter boxes, or at the base of shrubs. They work by flooding water on the ground and around the vegetation’s root zone, instead of spraying foliage. They water small areas of five feet or less.
  • Gear-Driven: Gear-driven sprinkler heads work well in large to medium-sized lawns. The heads have a smooth operating style and their spray patterns can be adjusted.
  • Multiple Stream: Multiple stream heads work well on uneven yards, sloped areas, medium-sized yards, or in beds with ground covers. They slowly rotate in an 18-27 foot span, producing a thin stream of water.
  • Pop-up: Pop-up sprinkler heads work well in all yards, as well as garden areas. The head pops up from the ground level, evenly distributing water at a low angle when you turn the system on. The units disappear back into the ground when turned off.
  • Rotary: Rotary heads work well in large, medium, and side yards. The heads rotate in a circle and deliver a slower, single stream of water.
  • Shrub: Shrub sprinkler heads serve flower beds with shrubbery or planters. They have special, adjustable pattern nozzles. They create a more-flexible watering pattern. Risers or extensions let them rise above the vegetation.

Install the System

Sprinkler watering the garden
Photo Credit: Peggychoucair / Pixabay

Now that you mapped your system, purchased supplies, and located underground wires and pipes, you can get to work and install your home irrigation system.

Step 1: Mark Sprinkler Heads & Pipe

Using your plan, place a landscape flag or stake in every location where you plan to install a sprinkler head. Use string to mark where the pipes will go.

Step 2: Dig Trenches

Following the string, dig your trenches for your pipes, 6-12 inches deep. Nancy Foreman notes that one of the biggest mistakes people make, other than not placing the heads properly for 100 percent coverage, is not digging the trenches deep enough. If your trench is too shallow damage can occur to the pipe and it can become exposed.

Lay your trench’s soil to one side and place the sod on the other side. You can rent a power trencher that makes digging the trenches a lot easier than by hand. To keep from digging up the entire lawn, you can use a pipe-puller to install the PVC piping.

Step 3: Hook Up Water Supply

Hook up your supply of water either by attaching it to a spigot or tapping into your main water line. Attaching your sprinkler system to a spigot with adequate water pressure is the easiest method, but only suitable for those in a climate without extreme winters. Hooking up to your main water line is a bit trickier. If you’re not comfortable with it, you can call a plumber.

Hooking Up to a Spigot: When hooking up to a spigot, turn off the water supply going into the house and allow the spigot to drain. Remove the original spigot and replace it with a galvanized or brass tee.

Next, match the size of the outlets with the faucet and irrigation pipe you are using. Then reattach the faucet, install a nipple (a short piece of pipe with threads on each end) into the tee fitting’s stem, and finally connect the shut-off valve to that.

Hooking Up to the Main Water Line: Hook up to the main line by shutting off the water before the point in the line where you will be cutting. For an above-ground connection, cut away a short section of pipe in the supply line just big enough for you to slide a slip tee into place. Next, install a nipple into the stem of the tee fitting and connect the shut-off valve to that.

Step 4: Valve Manifold Assembly

Next, install the valve manifold by digging a hole slightly bigger than the valve manifold box. Attach the main water supply line to one end of the valve manifold assembly and tighten the clamps.

Step 5: Running Pipe

Lay your PVC pipe in the trenches and lay the appropriate sprinkler heads and connectors at each landscape flag or stake.

Step 6: Assemble Parts

Starting at one sprinkler location, assemble all the parts except the sprinkler heads and then move on to the next location and repeat the process. You need to flush dirt and debris that made its way into the pipes before you install the sprinkler heads, as they can clog up.

Step 7: Flush System

You’ll need to flush the system by turning the water back on. Manually open each valve and allow the water to clear the pipe and then close it, moving onto the next valve and repeating the process.

Step 8: Install Sprinkler Heads

After you have flushed the debris from the system, you can now attach the sprinkler heads to the irrigation system. Make sure any pop-ups are flush with the soil line.

Step 9: Wiring Control Box

You’ll want to give your home sprinkler system a brain by wiring the controller box according to the manufacturer’s instructions. If you don’t feel comfortable working around electricity, call an electrician or someone with wiring experience.

Step 10: Test and Adjust

Now that you have finally accomplished all the hard work and you have finished installing your lawn sprinkler system, it’s time to test things out and program the control box, per the manufacturer’s instructions.

Conduct a water audit to be sure sufficient water reaches all parts of the grass. Turn on the system, moving from one zone to the next, and check the sprinkler heads and their spray patterns. Adjust the spray patterns and program the control box to the days and hours you desire the system to operate.

Step 11: Fill Trench

Once you have tested your newly installed lawn sprinkler system and everything works properly, it’s time to backfill the trenches with dirt and replant the sod you removed. Now that you’ve gone through all the work of installing your system, keep it running smoothly with tips on sprinkler head repair and adjustments.

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How Many Sprinkler Heads are Too Many?

If your home’s water flow rate is 10 gallons per minute, you should be able to place at least three heads per zone. The number of sprinkler heads you can install depends on a few variables:
● Water pressure 
● Your backflow device 
● Zone valves 
● Sprinkler head brand you purchase 
● Improperly sealed pipes
● Other factors
Be sure to check the performance chart or design manual that comes with your sprinkler system.

What Pipe is Best for my Sprinkler System?

It’s best to choose from the following types of irrigation pipes: PVC Schedule 40, black roll pipe, or pressure-rated PVC pipes. They are easy to work with, readily available, and less expensive than other irrigation pipe styles. In southern climates, PVC Schedule 40 is used most frequently. In the colder northern areas, black roll pipe is used because it handles the expansion of the pipe when it freezes.

What Would you Consider a Small to Medium Lawn?

Depending where you live, a small lawn can be up to one-quarter of an acre. A medium lawn could be up to a half acre.

Freedom From Your Watering Schedule

Once you’ve installed your lawn sprinkler system, it’s time to break out that Sprinkler dance move! If it’s more than you care to tackle, why not call a local sprinkler system professional to install your system? You’ll never again need to drag heavy hoses and sprinklers around. The benefits are a well-watered, healthy landscape and the freedom to wander far from a watering schedule.

Main Image Credit: Ildar Sagdejev / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

Joyce Starr

Joyce Starr

Joyce Starr has been writing on horticultural and landscaping topics for over 15 years. In addition, for the past 20 years she’s owned and operated a landscaping and design business. She shares her experience and passion for all things green through her writing.